Branding Agency Philosophies
Each branding agency has a different philosophy and/or approach when it comes to branding. When boiled down, however, each agency is essentially providing a variety of brand-building services across a range of touchpoints. Some agencies specialize in a particular service (logo and identity work) and become known for performing that type of work for an array of clients. Some agencies specialize in a particular category (tech start-ups, product packaging, etc.) and seek to only work with brands that fall within their experience and expertise.
It should go without saying that there is no right or wrong way to brand companies, products, or services. Instead, think of it as purchasing a car – there are different types of cars for different purposes… some are bad and some are good, and asking the right questions before making a decision can ensure an overall positive experience and outcome.
What branding agencies are not?
So far we’ve lightly touched on what branding agencies are, so we must touch on what they are not…
Branding agencies don’t just create logos. In order to develop a brand effectively, questions need to be asked and research needs to be performed (ideal client interviews, competitor analysis, etc.). Some branding agencies also focus on improving customer experience and go to great lengths to understand what gaps currently exist within a customer’s journey and how to bridge those gaps. Branding is more than just a logo, in fact, a logo (which is a part of a brand’s identity) is simply the tip of the “brand iceberg”.
Branding agencies are not marketing agencies. Branding is defining and developing the brand in question while marketing is using tools and strategies to garner market share, build awareness, and drive the bottom line for that brand. Most branding agencies fall into the “design bucket” and typically partner with a marketing agency for any marketing-related tasks.
Branding agencies aren’t only for large corporations. Effective branding is outmaneuvering your competition – what business, regardless of size, doesn’t benefit from that? Some branding agencies specialize in working with start-ups, SMB’s, and large corporations as well – best to pick one that best suits your needs.
Different Types of Agencies
From specializing in certain offerings to only working with certain categories, there is a slew of different types of agencies. Here are a few ways to look at them.
Undifferentiated branding agencies. Some agencies do everything for everybody – they have not focused on working with one type of client and provide a wide array of services. A lot of times these agencies don’t have a lot of work coming in and have decided to leave the floodgates completely open for all different types of leads.
Service-specific agencies. Some agencies are renowned for their identity work while some are well-known for creating bespoke user experiences. UX / UI agencies, market research agencies, and positioning agencies are a few examples.
Category-specific agencies. Some agencies stick to a particular market category and will only work with B2B SaaS brands, or commercial real estate brands, or athletic clothing brands.
Strategy-only agencies. Some agencies only focus on strategy and ideation but will not produce or execute those plans or strategies. A market research agency will provide insights but may not help enact the recommendations to coincide with the insights.
Execution-only agencies. Some agencies only focus on executing a strategy but do not have services to flesh out strategy items. A website agency may only produce websites but won’t strategize on who the customers are and how to speak to them.
Being able to discern where any agency draws its line in the sand can be of great benefit when deciding whether they are a solid fit.
Typical Service Offerings
No two branding agencies are the same, but here are a few offerings you can expect to see on the menu.
- Logo/identity design
- Brand messaging
- Brand positioning
- Touchpoint design
Logo / Identity Design
Most branding agencies are design-forward, meaning they have a team of designers, artists, and developers to create identity systems and brand collateral for their clients. Larger agencies will have a full in-house design team (sometimes multiple teams) while others may subcontract some of the work (collateral, sight, and signage, etc.).
In order to develop a brand, the messaging must be fleshed out. Oftentimes branding agencies will go through a discovery/strategy process to confirm suspicions and unearth insights (via feedback) to create effective messaging.
In order to win new business, you need to be different (here’s how to do that). Most firms will go through several exercises and workshops with you to flesh this out, and each firm has a different way of doing so.
Branding agencies are typically thought of like the ones producing the brand collateral (business cards, letterhead, merchandise) – this is mostly true. Some may specialize in designing clothing or printed materials while others may do a little bit of everything.
The Good from the Bad
No two agencies are the same, but how can you determine if one is the right fit? Here are a few questions to ponder:
Are they specialized in solving your exact needs? If they have dealt with your exact situation time and time again, they will have picked up on certain patterns rivaling agencies likely haven’t.
Are they outsourcing their team? With bandaid solutions like Fiverr in the marketplace, it’s best to ask who will actually be carrying out the scope of work. It doesn’t take much for an “agency” to make a fancy website and to mislead prospects into thinking they’ve worked with big clients.
Do they practice what they preach? Ask them about their positioning, check their website, look at their business cards… do they match the quality of work you are looking for?
What do their reviews say about them? As a branding agency public relations is huge – are they living up to the standards they are promising for you?
How long do clients typically hire them for? Do they do a lot of work for a lot of clients or only for a select few? What is their reasoning for it? Do they work with clients for years and years or only a few weeks or months?
Every branding agency has a different philosophy/approach when it comes to branding. No two agencies are the same. Understanding the different types, different services, and different questions to ask is essential in determining the best fit when hiring a branding agency.